MUSCLE SHOALS — CBS Records sent Andy Williams to the South in the mid 1970s to cut some hit records with Rick Hall, and while the hits didn’t happen, Hall became good friends with the man whose voice was once called a “national treasure.”
Williams, the crooner known for hits such as “Moon River” and the long-running variety program “The Andy Williams Show,” died Tuesday at the age of 84 at his home in Branson, Mo. Williams had been battling bladder cancer for the past year.
“He was a good buddy and a good man,” said Hall, the founder of FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals. “He was very humble, very laid back.”
Hall said he recorded four or five tracks with Williams at FAME in 1975, just a few years after Hall’s success with The Osmonds, a group that had performed on “The Andy Williams Show” for several years.
“I was a huge fan of his,” Hall said. “In fact, I thought he was bigger than life.”
Hall said he would meet Williams and his three children at Huntsville International Airport and drive them in his limousine to the Shoals.
Williams wanted to stay at an “out of the way” hotel, so Hall put them up at the lodge at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville.
Williams liked champagne, and Hall said he kept several bottles on ice for the singer to enjoy during the sessions.
The recording sessions lasted about two weeks, and included local studio musicians such as Mickey Buckins, Clayton Ivey, Randy McCormick, Roger Clark and Bob Wray.
“We opened up the microphones and the session was ready to start, and I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I heard him start singing into the microphones,” Hall said. “I had never heard a voice as big as Andy Williams’. His voice sounded like it was bigger than the studio. He was a joy to work with.”
Buckins said the songs were more of a country-rhythm and blues style, which was different for Williams at the time.
Buckins said Hall had a talent for taking artists like Williams and putting them in a “little funkier, soulful place.”
“He was just an incredible professional,” Buckins said. “He was the only singer that we worked with that could read the melody off the score.”
Buckins said Williams was already an established artist by the time he came to Muscle Shoals.
“By the time we got to work with him, he had done it all,” he said.
Hall said the idea was to cut four to six tracks and if a hit single emerged, come back and record additional tracks for a full-length album. They recorded “Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville, which Hall really expected to be a hit, and “We Don’t Live Here, We Just Love Here” by Buckins as well as three or four more songs.
“Tell It Like It Is” was released as a single with one of the other tracks from the session as a B side.
Rodney Hall, president of FAME Music Publishing and Rick Hall’s son, said he did not think the other tracks were released.
“We worked for about two weeks together,” Rick Hall said. “He stayed with me and hung out with me. I went to New York and Las Vegas with him.”
Hall said Williams brought his children, Robert, Noelle and Christian, along on the trip.
“He was going through a divorce,” Hall said. Williams had been married to the former Las Vegas show girl, Claudine Longet, since 1961.
Williams became a major star in 1956 with the Sinatra-like swing number, “Canadian Sunset.” He remained on the charts into the 1970s and continued to perform at his Moon River Theater in Branson into his 80s. His career included 18 gold records, three platinum and five Grammy award nominations.
The singer’s unflappable manner on television and in concert was mirrored offstage.
“I guess I’ve never really been aggressive, although almost everybody else in show business fights and gouges and knees to get where they want to be,” he once said. “My trouble is, I’m not constructed temperamentally along those lines.”
Hall said a person might assume Williams would be arrogant, but he was just the opposite.
“He was humble and easy to work with,” Hall said. “He was one of the most beautiful singers.”
President Ronald Reagan once called Williams’ voice a “national treasure.”
Among Williams’ hit records are “Canadian Sunset,” “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” “Dear Heart,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” the theme from the movie “Love Story” and “Charade.”
Williams and his music were a holiday tradition for many families who gathered at the television, and later in person at his theater, to watch his Christmas specials and to hear him sing, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” a song written for Williams that became a holiday standard.
Williams is survived by his three children and wife, Debbie.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.